ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf wants to make Pennsylvania the nation’s No. 1 producer of organic farm products.
“We are smack dab in the middle of one of the richest markets,” he said during Wednesday’s public officials luncheon at Ag Progress Days. “There is no other place with that open space so close to that rich of a market.”
Wolf also believes promoting organic could entice young people to choose a career in farming.
Pennsylvania edged Washington state to take the No. 2 slot in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available.
Unseating current No. 1 California will be much harder.
The state accounts for $2.9 billion in organic sales, more than four times Pennsylvania’s take.
Pennsylvania can boost its production by growing more organic grains to replace imported feed, and by promoting in-state organic milk through the PA Preferred program, Wolf said.
Growing organic production is one part of a plan to cultivate the next generation of farmers that Wolf, who is seeking re-election in November, rolled out at the gathering.
Other goals of the plan include expanding processing capacity for animal products and upgrading infrastructure.
Wolf said he wants the whole state to have broadband access within four years to help farms and rural businesses stay competitive.
Wolf’s Republican challenger, businessman Scott Wagner, said he’d like to focus on reducing regulations that hinder farmers from growing their businesses.
Wolf agreed that farmers feel “stymied” by environmental permitting requirements.
“We need to address the regulatory environment. I get that,” he said.
Wagner drew applause for saying he’d seek to supply whole milk to schools and state institutions.
Full-fat milk has become a cause for dairy advocates, who fear that children are being turned off to milk by federal rules that allow only low-fat milk to be served in schools.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who is also seeking re-election, urged farmers to continue pressing Congress to pass the Farm Bill.
“I want to thank you for the efforts you have undertaken this year to not just get a Farm Bill done, but a bipartisan Farm Bill. You are making it possible,” Casey said.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who is challenging Casey, said his goal is to squelch the Waters of the United States rule, which farm groups say is a power grab by regulators.
“Sometimes a mud puddle is just a mud puddle, and sometimes a ditch is just a ditch,” Barletta said.
The rule is on hold because of a legal challenge.